It remains a mystery as to how the Bills will look to split carries between Jackson and Spiller moving forward. I recently wrote a piece looking at how the Bills rushing offense performed this season. If you want to read that, click this link. The purpose of this piece is to compare Spiller and Jackson's performances this past season and try to determine how carries should be split moving forward.
In my last article I looked at all the Bills rushing plays by running backs in 2011. Here is a brief description as well as the results:
I recorded the distance for each run by our running backs. I ignored runs by Fitz since they were designed passing plays and runs that occurred when Fitz was pulled since they indicated the it was in garbage time. I also chose to exclude Brad Smith's wildcat runs. Here is the breakdown:
Bills RB's averaged 5.1 yds/carry
<3 yards: 158 carries
4-8 yards: 94 carries
9-14 yards: 27 carries
15+ yards: 25 carries
Totals Rushes: 304
Percent of Rushes 9+ yards: 17%
Percent of Rushes <3 yards: 52%
Fred Jackson ran the ball 170 times for 934 yds and 6 TD, averaging 5.4 yds/carry. 39 rec for 442 yds 0 TD.
C.J. Spiller ran the ball 107 times for 561 yds and 4 TD, averaging 5.2 yds/carry. 39 rec for 269 yds and 2 TD.
In the first 7 games, Jackson had 137 carries while Spiller had only 13. While Jackson was seemingly dominant on the field, the data I collected suggests that Spiller may have been just as effective, if not more so, than Jackson with his limited touches.
Jackson: (1st 7 games----Total)
<3 yards: 76 carries----89 carries
4-8 yards: 38 carries----51 carries
9-14 yards: 12 carries----16 carries
15+ yards: 11 carries----14 carries
Spiller: (1st 7 games----Total)
<3 yards: 4 carries---- 52 carries
4-8 yards: 4 carries---- 36 carries
9-14 yards: 3 carries---- 8 carries
15+ yards: 2 carries---- 11 carries
Through the first 7 games, Spiller rushed the ball only 13 times compared to Jackson's 137 carries. Most people, myself included, argued that Jackson was simply playing too good to warrant putting Spiller in the game. But when I looked over the running plays I noticed something interesting. Of the 13 carries Spiller had in the first 7 weeks, only 4 resulted in <3 yards. So 9/13 (69%) of his runs were successful (4+ yards). Of Jackson's 137 carries in those games, 77 resulting in <3 yards- entailing that only 60/137 (44%) of his runs were successful. Additionally, Spiller ran for 9+ yards on 5/13 (38%) of those carries, compared to Jackson's 23/137 (16%).
How did the two compare on the season? They were actually remarkably similar.
<3 yards: Jackson 52%---Spiller 48%
4-8 yards: Jackson 30%--- Spiller 34%
9-14 yards: Jackson 9%---- Spiller 8%
15+ yards: Jackson 8%--- Spiller 10%
Another area I looked at was how consistent the Bills were when they ran the ball. The Bills RB's average 5.2 yards/carry, but that number was thwarted by 25 runs of 15+ yards. On those 25 carries we gained 672 of our 1565 total rushing yards for the season. So 8% of our runs accounted for 43% of our total rushing yardage. On the remaining 279 rushes we averaged a very pedestrian 3.2 yards/carry.
Jackson had 14 runs over 15 yards that accounted for 411 yards (44%) of his total rushing yardage.
Spiller had 11 runs over 15 yards that accounted for 261 yards (46%) of his total rushing yardage.
Ignoring these carries, Jackson averaged 3.4 yds/attempt and Spiller averaged 3.1 yds/attempt.
Overall the numbers between the two are extremely balanced. As a team the Bills need to be more consistent with the run game as it is very difficult to sustain drives when half your runs are unsuccessful. Jackson exceeded Spiller's receiving yardage total by a lot, but in my opinion that was due to the design of the plays. Jacksons receptions were generally screen passes meant to get him in open space, Spillers were generally short routes designed to take advantage of mismatches and get 5-10 yards. The biggest difference between the two is that Jackson made more out of his bad carries. He turned no gainers into 2-3 yards runs, while Spiller would generally go down at the line. That's why I believe Jackson averaged more yards per carry despite the relative distribution of yardage gains being similar. Jackson is still the better player right now, but Spiller isn't far behind. In my opinion the Bills should use a 60-40 split in carries moving forward next season. The Bills would benefit from finding ways to get the ball into both of their hands as often as possible- a feat made easier when both of them are on the field.